In 2001 sansei art kite-maker and exhibit designer Greg Kono made one of his first kites as an adult to entertain children at a family reunion. A few months later his interest was whetted and focused by a Drachen workshop in Japanese kite-building with master kite-makers Nobuhiko Yoshizumi and Scott Skinner. A mere three years later, an exhibit of Kono's whimsical art kites surrounded the twenty K-12 teachers who gathered at the Ballard U-Frame-It to learn about traditions of Japanese kites and to try Japanese kite-making for themselves.
After an introduction to the history of kites in Japan (the handout for teachers was keyed to examples in Drachen publications), Kono discussed how his childhood on a farm outside Sacramento influenced his kite imagery--lots of fruits and vegetables! Participants could also pick out his contemporary interpretations of such traditional images and shapes as Daruma and yakko-dako. He demonstrated some kite-making techniques, such as warming bamboo over a cigarette lighter before trying to bend it, the only trick being not to set it on fire in the process. Teachers then made a Japanese fish kite, designed by Nobuhiko Yoshizumi, and a Kaku Dako, engineered by master kite-maker Mikio Toki. Each kite can be made in the classroom by students age seven and older, and is available in a pre-packaged kit through the Drachen Foundation's online store.
Subjects taught by the participating teachers ranged from Japanese language to math, "world cultures" to special education, history to "all" in the elementary classroom. All teachers, it was hoped, would walk away not just with the two kites each had made but with ideas for integrating Japanese kite-making into these various contexts and with an easy, inexpensive source for the materials to teach a kite-making project. Several teachers also agreed to serve on a curriculum committee, to review lesson formats for the wealth of information about Japanese kites that the Drachen Foundation has developed during its first decade of work.
Special thanks to the East Asia Outreach Center at the University of Washington and to the Hyogo Business & Cultural Center, co-sponsors of the workshop with the Drachen Foundation.